I like to think of myself as an adventurous traveler. I try to keep an open-mind and soak in the local culture and customs. I am not at all picky about my accommodations and have slept in some interesting places. I try to stay flexible with all modes of transportation; flight delays, train strikes, crowded subways and miles of walking in the heat/humidity. I try to make Anthony Bourdain and Rick Steves proud.
I know Anthony Bourdain would be severely disappointed in my veganism and my unwillingness to try the local meat and dairy dishes. I completely agree with his standpoint that food is strongly tied to understanding the customs and culture of a society and refusing to eat certain dishes can be considered rude.
I try to take all of this into account when I travel and still be mindful of respecting culture, while staying committed to my veganism.
Sometimes though, it can get pretty tough. Especially when there is a language barrier.
I cannot thank our new Chinese friends enough for all their help with ordering and looking up restaurants that were accommodating to vegans. We ate extremely well throughout Beijing and felt that we had an authentic experience.
One thing I cannot recommend highly enough (especially if you have dietary restrictions) is learning some of the local language! We did pretty well with this throughout Japan (well, my husband did), but failed miserably in China. Chinese was extremely difficult to speak and we never quite got the tones correct. We learned some basic vocabulary and thought we would be OK ordering food, only to be met with questioning looks and blank stares. I truly admire my friend for learning so much of the language and anyone else who has learned it as an adult. I find it extremely challenging.
Fortunately, we had some wonderful people to help us along the way.
This is Ben and he is pretty much the best. He is a friend of my friend, but now my friend, too. (I hope that made sense.) He was willing to go sight seeing with us and explain some of the culture and history. He searched around for restaurants with vegan options and made sure our orders did not contain animal products. I think I may have just eaten Pringles, if it was not for him.
One of the first things we ordered was noodles from a street vendor. Ben assured us that it only contained sesame and chili oil + zucchini over noodles. Simple, flavorful and deeeeeelicious!
We quickly realized that the best place to find all vegetarian restaurants was near the temples. After visiting Lama temple, we headed to our first all vegetarian, Chinese restaurant. Nearly every meal was family style and we shared all the dishes that came out. Below are some of my favorite; vegetarian orange chicken, peanut tofu in a spicy sauce and vegetable soup.
Nearly every morning we started off with vegetable dumplings and fresh bread. My friend took us to a stand right across from his apartment. The dumplings were filled with spinach and onion. We dipped them, along with the bread, in spicy sauce and ate along with pickled green beans, onions and ginger. It was a filling, savory breakfast.
Here’s some more favorites from another restaurant we visited. This was not an all-vegetarian restaurant, but Ben did a great job of pointing out the non-meat dishes for us to order. Below are; spiced cucumbers, noodles + seaweed, peanut noodles, vegetable steamed buns, rice and sweet dumplings filled with red bean paste.
On one particular late night, we even found Italian food. I was pleasantly surprised with how delicious this pizza marinara and pasta arribiata tasted!
One of my favorite restaurants was another all-vegetarian place a friend found, after taking us to visit The Great Wall. Ryan not only drove us to The Great Wall, but also called around to find a vegan-friendly restaurant for us.
Some of my favorites: fruit over dry ice, pepper slices of vegetarian beef, tofu stir-fry, Szechwan stir-fry.
As you can see we were treated and fed extremely well throughout Beijing. I enjoyed the spicy and flavorful notes and now need to find some sort of equivalent in Southern California, when I am craving dumplings!